B.J Novak writes, stars and makes his feature directorial debut with a wild dark comedy caper. Meet Ben Manalowitz (Novak), a somewhat jaded New York journalist who isn’t looking for more in his life than a casual relationship and a good story. However, things take a turn when he gets a phone call late one night from Ty (Boyd Holbrook), who thinks his recently deceased sister Abby (Lio Tipton) was Ben’s long-term girlfriend. In truth, she was little more than a brief fling, but the circumstances surrounding her apparent death tell Ben that there’s a story to be told here.
He decides to go to Texas and attends her funeral, and he discovers more about Abby, her dreams to be a musician, who she was as a person, and her brother’s belief that she didn’t die of a drug overdose but was murdered. As they delve into her past, the more their present begins to unravel.
Much like fellow star of The Office, John Krasinski, who shifted gears from comedy to co-write, direct and star in A Quiet Place, Vengeance takes us on a neat mystery ride that, while familiar, still manages to throw out a few narrative surprises. The opening suggests a sharply observed comedy with some dark undertones before shifting gears into more mystery thriller territory. The deeper Ben looks into Abby’s life (and death), the more out of his depth he becomes.
For all the solid performances in the cast, Ashton Kutcher steals the show by playing against type as a highly eccentric record producer named Quentin Sellers. He’s a moustachioed ten-gallon hat-wearing Texan who dreams of the big time, and it’s a scenery-chewing supporting role that shows off a different side of rom-com regular. In all honesty, Ben is a complicated character to warm to; he’s selfish, frequently obnoxious, and makes some deeply questionable decisions. Throughout his journey, he learns to care for something more than himself; he even finds some misguided purpose. Yet, I think he’ll end up at a bar resuming his old ways once he returns to New York.
Sharply directed with a game cast, Vengeance is slightly overstuffed with a few too many ideas about what sort of movie it wants to be by the time the credits roll. While it might not bring much originality to a well-worn sub-genre, it’s a fun ride and a promising debut from Novak.
Vengeance is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.